The Consolation of Philosophy. By. Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius. Translated from the Latin. By. W. V. Cooper. Published by the Ex-classics Project, The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no. treatise on the consolation of philosophy. His imprisonment, however, “ Consolation” it can scarcely be supposed that Boethius had embraced the Christian.
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EBook PDF, KB, This text-based PDF or EBook was created from the HTML . This book is his version of the Consolations of Philosophy of Boethius, the. English] The consolation of philosophy / Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius ; translated by David R. Slavitt. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. isbn . Can Change Your Life, The Consolations of Philosophy, and The Art of Travel. he is an Associate Research Fellow of the Philosophy Programme of the.
Saturn, pp. The Wain Shafts, p. Collapse of Universe, p. The use of fables, p. The spoken word, p. The threefold soul, p. Growth of trees, p. Instruments and materials for government, p. Race for a crown, p. The deed and the will, p. Proud kings, p. Excess leads to sin, p. Folly and fools, p. The example of great men, p. Grades of intelligence, pp. Similes and Metaphors. Brook, river, and ocean, pp. Sifting meal, p. Ingot of metal, p.
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Fire and smoke, p. Woman in travail, p. Light shining through crack in door, p. Children and old men, p. The eagle, p. Habits of swine, p. Crash of forest-tree, p. Refining silver, p.
Wheel, nave, spokes and fellies, pp. Good seamanship, p. Dung in midden, p. The body and its members, p. Diseased eyes unable to bear light, p. The King with enslaved subjects, p. Taken together they give a fair idea of the course of English translation during the last five Edition: The same passages, both from the prose and the verse, will be given where possible.
The task would have been perhaps too heavy for the English language and for English learning. During these centuries our speech had been as it were in the melting-pot. The old standard West-Saxon, in the political and social ferment that had followed the Norman Conquest, had given place to various provincial dialects as literary media. These in their turn had begun to merge in another standard form, rivalling in vigour and adaptability the Norman stocks from which it took many a graft.
This standard English, which at length emerged from the competition of dialects, to last with comparatively slight change to the present day, was largely indebted to the labours of our first great modern poet.
Geoffrey Chaucer in the beginning of his literary career devoted much of his time to translation, and felt himself obliged, in the course of his work, to transplant hundreds of Norman-French words into his own tongue. By this means he made English a more complete instrument than he found it; and in his literal translation of the Consolation of Philosophy he laid the foundations of an English philosophical prose.
This version, all in prose, swarming with new words, the greater number of which are still in use, is of uncommon interest, as it is the first prose work of the master, and the source of the many allusions to and quotations from Boethius which run through his original poems. The real name of the translator is, in the Christ Church MS.
His version was printed for the first and only time in , in The Boke of Comfort at the monastery of Tavistock. The first three books are in eight-line stanzas of the type ababbcbc, and the last two in seven-lined Edition: The following lines from the first proem are interesting: A century and a half now passed before the next English translation of the Consolation made its appearance.
George Colvile, or Coldewel, turned the whole into English prose, and dedicated his book to Queen Mary in It pleaseth me to shew, with a sownynge songe, upon softe strynges, by what raynes or meanes, that is to say: And by what lawes nature beynge pronydente and circumspecte conserueth and kepythe the hole greate worlde. And by what lawes nature kepeth in and fastenyth all thynges with a fast and sure knot, that cannot be loosed.
Althoughe the lions of Libia, haning goodly chaines aboute their neckes doo take mete at their maysters handes, and althoughe they feare their cruell mayster and be wont to suffer beating, yet if the bloud of beastes that the same lyons haue denoured do moist or tast in theyr mouthes, that is to saye: And with greet roryng they breke their chaynes from theyr neckes, and fyrste of all their mayster that kept them as tame felyth theyr rauenyng rage, beyng rente into peces with their blody teethe, that is to saye they fyrste kylle their mayster, that kept them.
Likewise the syngyng byrde that syngeth vpon the hygh bowghes in the woode, if she be taken and put into a strayte cage, although the dilygent cure of men delytynge in her, geneth her swete drinkes and dyners meates wyth plesaunt labour: Also the sprigge or bough of a tree by greate vyolence made croked boweth downe the toppe, but when the hand of him that boweth it, letteth it go at lyberte, it holdethe the toppe Edition: The sonne lykewyse that at euen before night fallyth as the poets faine into the westerne waters: So that all thynges naturall do returne and come agayne, to their naturall courses.
And all naturall things reioyseth at theyr returne to their owne nature. And nothynge hath any other prescribed order, but that onely that hath ioyned the begynnyng to the ende. And hath so establyshed the worlde of it selfe: Then if a man beynge myghtye to go vpon his fete walketh, another that lacketh the naturall offyce of hys fete laboureth to go upon his handes.
Which of these may iustely be iudged more strong or myghtye? I say, procede in thy other sayinges, for noo man doughteth but that he that maye go by naturall offyce of his fete, is stronger then he that maye not do the same.
Even soo the soueraygne good before spoken of is shewed indifferently, aswel unto the euyll folke as to the good folke; but the good doo optayne it by the naturall offyce of vertue, and the wycked folke do enforce themselfe to get it by sundry couytous desyres of temporall and worldly thinges, whyche is not the naturall offyce or meane to obteyne good.
Dost thou thynke it other wyse? No truly, for the thyng, that is the consequence, is manyfest. And of these thinges that I haue graunted, it is necessarye, that good folke be myghtye, and euyll folke vnmyghtye and weake.
Thou sayest right, and it is a sygne or iudgement that nature is recouered in the, and resisteth the dyssease, as the phisicions be wonte to hope of the paciente and sycke folke. In the Public Record Office in London there is a manuscript containing an English metrical version of all the carmina of the first book of the De Consolatione and the first two of the second book, made about Edition: These renderings in a variety of metres are so spirited as to make us wish Sir Thomas had translated the whole of the metres, as he says he was willing to do, if the burdensome duties of his office had allowed him.
Queen Elizabeth, amid the countless preoccupations of her high estate, found time to translate the Consolations of Philosophy at Windsor, and several other Latin works, in the year In this MS. Dost thou think the contrary? For heerby may we gather that I graunted afore, good men to be mighty, and yll men weake. The book is dedicated to the Countess of Dorset.
The metres are in terza rima. Wherefore if one, that can go vpon his feete, doeth walke, and another, who hath not this naturall function of his feete, endeuoureth to walke by creeping vpon his hands: Inferre the rest quoth I for no man doubteth, but that hee which can vse that naturall function is stronger then he which cannot.
But quoth she the good seeke to obtaine the chiefest good, which is equally proposed to badde and good, by the naturall function of vertues, but the euill endeuour to obtaine the same by diuers concupiscences, which are not the natural function of obtaining goodnesse.
Thinkest thou otherwise? No quoth I for it is manifest, what followeth. For by force of that which I haue already granted, it is Edition: Thou runnest rightly quoth she and it is as Physitions are wont to hope a token of an erected and resisting nature.
In appeared a free metrical version of the whole work, the prose being rendered in eight-syllable rhyming couplets the metre of Hudibras , and the verse in quatrains of a peculiar metre, a 8 b 6 a 8 b 8. This was written by Harry Coningsby, a Royalist.
The rendering of Boethius Book iii. Proceed, said I, for it is unquestionable, that he who has a Power to perform those Actions, which Nature requires, has more Strength than he, who is not Able so to do. Dost thou think otherwise?
No surely, said I: For from what I have granted, it must of necessity follow that Good men are Powerful, that Wicked men are altogether Feeble, and Impotent. Thou dost well, quoth she, thus to run before me; and this, as Phisitians are wont to hope, is a sign that Nature gathers Strength, and begins to resist the Disease.
He mentions in his preface the version of Chaucer, that of , and that of In his verses we find an irregular metre, then much in vogue. If then he who is able to use his Feet walks, and if another to whom this natural Office of the Feet is wanting, creeping upon his Hands, doth endeavour to walk, which of these, by right, ought to be esteemed more able? Proceed with what remains; for no one doubteth but he who is able to move naturally upon his Feet, is more powerful than he who cannot.
But the Sovereign Good, which even the Vertuous and Impious propose to themselves as their End, by the one Party is sought by the natural means of Vertue, whilst the other endeavours after it by various and differing Desires of earthly things, which is not the natural way of obtaining it; dost thou think otherwise? No; for the Consequence is plain, and it appears out of that which before I granted, which was, that the Good were endowed with Power and Might, and that the evil Men were destitute of it Ph.
Thou dost rightly run before me; and it is a good Sign, as Physicians observe, when Nature exerts herself, and resists the Malady. During the eighteenth century there appeared four versions, none of which show more than moderate merit, and a few lines from the verse in each case will suffice as a specimen. By the Rev. Philip Ridpath, Nonconformist minister, who alludes in his dedicatory epistle to the translations by King Alfred and Queen Elizabeth, and gives a Life of Boethius. London, He uses the octosyllabic couplet, much affected by Nonconformists of his day.
By Robert Duncan, who employs the blank verse that his countryman Thompson had made fashionable again, Edinburgh, The last translation of the Consolations into English was made by H. James, London, First comes the Historical Introduction chap i. While Boethius is lying in the dungeon lamenting his hard lot and vanished happiness, there appears to him divine Philosophy, the spirit of Wisdom, who raises him up and bids him look on her. He then recognizes in her his old teacher whom he had known in his happier days.
She proceeds to show him that his misfortune arises from his neglect of her precepts, and his trust in the promises of fickle Fortune; and she undertakes to cure him of his melancholy. Philosophy tells Boethius that what he once accounted happiness was not really such; that he is not the first to suffer a reverse of fortune; that worldly joys are deceitful.
Fortune changes, and men must also change with her. Boethius owes his misfortune to his desire for worldly happiness. In reply, Boethius confesses his wrong and is in despair.
Philosophy then points out that he is not really unhappy, for his sorrows will pass away as his riches have done. He has many blessings left—his noble father-in-law Symmachus, his wife, and his two sons Let him seek happiness within himself, not outside; for he does wrong to set his heart on inferior creatures, over which he has no right of possession. God wishes man to rule all other creatures, but man makes himself their slave. Riches bring enemies; and power, often coming to very bad men, is not in its nature Edition: As for fame, even if it be worldwide it has but a narrow range, this earth being a mere speck in the universe When Fortune turns her back on a man she does him a real service, in enabling him to find the way to goodness.
Boethius admits that he is greatly comforted by the words of Philosophy, but he would like to hear more of her healing doctrine. In what does true happiness consist? Thereupon Philosophy discusses the nature of the Supreme Good, and shows how all men, even the worst, long to reach it.
This Good does not lie in power, nor in wealth, nor in fame, nor in high birth, nor in carnal pleasure; no, it lies in God; and therefore True Happiness lies in Him Men can participate in happiness, and thereby attain to divinity. Evil has no existence, for God, who can do all things, cannot do evil. Boethius says he cannot quite cease to be unhappy until he knows why God suffers evil to exist, or why, suffering it, He does not punish evil-doers, instead of allowing them to flourish, while wisdom and other virtues go dishonoured.
Philosophy replies that Boethius is mistaken, for the wicked have no real power, and never reach the Supreme Good, and moreover are punished. Punishment is a real benefit to the wrong-doer. Then the discussion leads to the subject of Fate and Providence. Providence is the supreme Reason that plans and orders all things; Fate is the instrument which links them together, and sets them in motion, under Providence.
King Alfred was the interpreter of this book, and turned it from book Latin into English, as it is now done. Now he set forth word by word, now sense from sense, as clearly and intelligently as he was able, in the various and manifold worldly cares that oft troubled him both in mind and in body.
These cares are very hard for us to reckon, that in his days came upon the kingdoms to which he had succeeded, and yet when he had studied this book and turned it from Latin into English prose, he wrought it up once more into verse, as it is now done. For every man must, according to the measure of his understanding and leisure, speak what he speaketh and do what he doeth.
Theodoric was an Amuling and a Christian, though he held fast to the Arian heresy. To the Romans he promised his friendship, and that they should keep their old rights; but he kept that promise very basely, and his end was grievous and full of sin, in that his countless crimes were increased by the murder of Pope John.
At that time there lived a consul, a chief we should now call him, whose name was Boethius, a man of book-learning and in worldly life most truly wise. He, perceiving the manifold wrongs wrought by Theodoric upon the Christian faith and upon the chief men of the Romans, began to recall the glad times and immemorial rights they had once Edition: And so meditating, he began to muse and cast about within himself how he might wrest the sovereignty from the unrighteous king and restore it to them of the true faith and of righteous life.
Wherefore, sending word privily to the Caesar at Constantinople, the chief city of the Greeks and the seat of their kings, because this Caesar was of the kin of the ancient lords of the Romans, he prayed him to help them back to their Christian faith and their old laws. But cruel King Theodoric heard of these designs, and straightway commanded that Boethius be thrust into a dungeon and kept fast therein. Now when this good man fell into so great straits he waxed sore of mind, by so much the more that he had once known happier days.
In the prison he could find no comfort; falling down, grovelling on his face he lay sorrowing on the floor, in deep despair, and began to weep over himself, and to sing, and this was his song: THE songs that I, poor exile, once sang so merrily I must now croon sadly sighing, and make of unmeet words.
I who of old did oft so deftly weave them, now even the fitting words I fit awry, weeping aye and sobbing. It hath turned its Edition: Why, oh why, did my friends tell me I was a happy man? How can he be happy that cannot abide in happiness? Then how comes it that thou art thus grievously oppressed with these worldly sorrows?
Unless, methinks, thou hast too soon forgotten the weapons that once I gave thee. With that the Mind turned towards her and forthwith clearly recognized his own mother, that same Philosophy that long before had trained and taught him.
And perceiving that the mantle of her doctrine was much rent and torn by the hands of foolish men, he asked her how this came about. And Philosophy made answer and said that her disciples had torn her thus, being minded to possess Edition: But of a truth they will gather much folly by their presumption and vainglory unless every one of them shall turn again to her healing care.
If it forget its own light that is, joy eternal , and press on to unfamiliar darkness that is, the cares of this world , as this Mind now doth, naught else shall it know but sorrow. Wherefore, if only thou wilt show shame for thine error, I will soon begin to raise thee up and carry thee with me to heaven. Dost thou mark how the righteous are hated and oppressed because they are resolved to do thy will, and how the unrighteous are exalted by reason of their misdeeds and their self-esteem?
Even that they may do their wicked will the sooner, they are furthered with gifts and possessions. Therefore I will now call earnestly upon God. Wherefore, O Lord, hast Thou ever suffered that Fate should change as she doth, for she oppresseth the innocent and harmeth not the guilty at all? The wicked sit on thrones, and trample the saints under their feet; bright virtues abide in hiding, and the unrighteous mock the righteous.
False swearing bringeth no harm to men, nor false guile that is cloaked with deceits. Wherefore well-nigh all men shall turn to doubt, if Fate shall change Edition: I knew that thou hadst departed therefrom, but how far I knew not, until thou thyself didst make all clear to me in thy song of sorrow.
But though thou hast indeed wandered farther than ever, yet art thou not utterly banished from thine home, though far astray. From hence, that is, from his righteous purpose, no man is ever banished save he himself so chooseth. Wheresoever he be, he hath that ever with him, and having it he is with his own kin and his own fellow-citizens in his own land, being in the company of the righteous.
Whosoever then is worthy to be in their service hath perfect freedom. What I seek here is not books, but that which understands books, to wit, thy mind. Very rightly didst thou lament the injustice of Fate, both in the exalted power of the unrighteous and in mine own dishonour and neglect, and in the licence of the wicked as regards the prosperity of this world. But as both thine indignation and thy grief have made thee so desponding, I may not answer thee till the time be come.
For whatsoever man shall begin untimely hath no perfect ending. Nor canst thou Edition: Wherefore I marvel beyond measure what ails thee, and why thou complainest, holding this faith.
But let us consider the matter yet more deeply. I do not fully know which of thy doubts remain; but thou sayest thou hast no doubt that God guideth this world; tell me then, how would He like it to be? I can hardly understand thy question, yet thou sayest I am to answer thee.
Dost think I know not the danger of that confusion in which thou art wrapt around? Come, tell me what is the end that every beginning is minded to have? I knew it once, but this sorrow of mine has reft me of the memory of it.
Knowest thou whence everything comes? I know that everything comes from God. How can it be that, knowing the beginning, thou knowest not the end also? Confusions may distract the mind, but cannot rob it of its understanding. And I would have thee tell me whether thou knowest what thou art thyself? I know that I belong to living men, intelligent, yet doomed to die. Dost thou know aught else concerning thyself, besides this thou hast said? Now I understand thy melancholy, seeing that thou thyself knowest not what thy nature is; and I know how to cure thee.
Thou hast said that thou wast an outcast and bereft of all good, in that thou knewest not what thou wast, and thereby thou didst make known thine ignorance of the end that every beginning has in view, when thou didst think that unguided and reckless men were the happy ones and the rulers of this world.
Furthermore, thou didst make known that thou knewest not with what guidance God ruleth this world, or how He would like it to be ordered, saying that thy belief was that this harsh Fate governs the world apart from the design of God.
Indeed, there was great risk that thou shouldst think so, for not only wast thou in boundless misfortune, but thou hadst even well-nigh perished withal. Thank God Edition: Thou needest fear naught now, for from the little spark which thou settest to the under the light of life has shone upon thee.
But it is not yet the time for me to hearten thee yet farther, for it is the habit of every mind to follow falsehood when once it hath forsaken the dictates of truth. From this have begun to gather the mists that perplex the understanding and utterly confound the true sight, even such mists as are now over thy mind. But first I must dissipate them, that afterwards I may the more easily be able to bring the true light unto thee. So too at times the south wind in fierce storms stirreth up the sea that before was in calm weather as clear as glass to look upon; but as soon as it is troubled by the surging waves it very quickly groweth gloomy, that was but now so smiling to behold.
Lo, the brook also swerveth from its right course, when a great rock rolling from the high mountain falleth into it, parting its waters, and damming up its proper course. But, if thou art desirous in good faith to know the true light, put away from thee evil joys and unprofitable, and also useless miseries and the evil dread of this world.
That is to say, exalt not thyself beyond measure in thine health and happiness, nor do thou again despair of all good in any adversity, for the mind is ever bound about with confusion in which either of these two ills holdeth sway.
I perceive clearly enough that worldly prosperity cunningly lures with all manner of sweets the mind that it wishes at last to beguile most; and then in the end it brings the mind when she least weeneth to despair and deepest sorrow. If thou wilt know whence cometh prosperity, thou mayest observe that it comes from covetousness of worldly goods.
Next, if thou wilt learn its nature, know that it remains true to no man. By this thou mayest understand that thou hadst no joy when fortune was thine, and in losing it thou hast suffered no loss thereof. I thought I long ago Edition: Further, I knew thou didst oft repeat my sayings against it, but I know that no habit can be changed in a man without his mind being in some measure affected, and therefore thou art now bereft of thy peace of mind. Thinkest thou this is something new or in any way unwonted that has come upon thee, such as has never ailed man before?
If thou thinkest it thine own fault that thy worldly prosperity is gone, then art thou in error, for its ways are even so. In thee it but fulfilled its own nature, and by its changing it made known its own instability.
When it most flattered thee, it was the very same as it now is, though it was enticing thee to an unreal happiness. Now hast thou perceived the fickle faith of blind pleasure; yet that which is now plain to thee is still hidden from many others. Now thou knowest the ways of worldly prosperity, and how it changeth. If then it is thy wish to be in its service, and thou likest its nature, why dost thou mourn so grievously?
Why not change also in its company? If thou wouldst avoid its treachery, do thou despise it and drive it from thee, for it is tempting thee to thy ruin. That same prosperity, the loss of which thou art grieving over, would have left thee in peace, hadst thou but refused to accept it; and now it hath forsaken thee of its own will, not of thine, being such that no man loseth it Edition: Dost thou then count a thing so precious and so dear which is neither safe to hold nor easy to part with, and which, when it shall slip away from a man, he shall let go with the greatest wound to his mind?
Since therefore thou mayest not keep the joys of this world after thy will, and they bring thee to sorrow when they vanish from thee, why else do they come save as a foretokening of sorrow and pangs unrelieved? Not on worldly wealth alone should a man fix his thoughts while he possesses it, but every prudent mind will consider the end thereof, and guard equally against its threats and its blandishments.
If however thou art desirous to be its servant, thou must needs do cheerfully what belongs to its service, in obedience to its nature and its will; and, if thou wouldst have it put on other garb than is its will and its wont, art thou not then doing thyself dishonour, in that thou art rebelling against the lordship thou thyself hast freely chosen? And nevertheless thou shalt not be able to change its ways and kind.
So too if thou give thyself over to the service of worldly prosperity it is but right that thou shouldst follow its ways. Thinkest thou that thou canst turn back the whirling wheel in its course? No more canst thou turn aside the changing course of worldly riches. Why didst thou reproach me just now that thou hadst Edition: Why dost thou frown on me, as if for my sake bereft of thine own, both wealth and honour, both of which thou hadst from me when they were bestowed upon thee?
Come, plead thy case before whatsoever judge thou wilt; and if thou canst prove that any mortal man ever owned anything I will restore to thee whatsoever thou canst prove to have been thine own. I received thee foolish and untaught when first thou camest into the world, and I trained and taught thee, and brought thee to that wisdom wherewith thou didst win those worldly honours from which thou hast parted in such sorrow.
Thou shouldst rather be thankful that thou hast well enjoyed my gifts, and not deem that thou hast lost aught of thine own. What complaint then hast thou against me? Have I ever robbed thee of any of the gifts which I gave thee? Every true blessing and every true honour is mine own servant, and, where I am, there are they too with me.
Be well assured that, if that had been thine own wealth the loss of which thou mournest, thou couldst never have lost it. Oh how evilly I am entreated of many worldly men, in that I may not rule mine own servants! The sky may bring bright days, and anon hide the light in darkness; the year may bring flowers, and the same year take them away again; the sea may enjoy her gentle heaving, and all things created may follow their course and fulfil their desire, save me alone.
I only am deprived of mine own wont and use, and forced to strange ones through the unsated avarice of worldly men, who in their greed have robbed Edition: Moreover, they have given me over to their evil practices, and made me minister to their false blessings, so that I cannot with my servants fulfil my service as all other creatures do. Now my servants are knowledge and skill of various kinds, and true riches; with these I have ever been wont to disport, and with them I sweep over the whole heavens.
The lowest I raise up to the highest, and the highest I put in the lowest place; that is, the lowly I exalt to heaven, and bring blessings down from heaven unto the lowly. When I rise aloft with these my servants, we look down upon the storms of this world, even as the eagle does when he soars in stormy weather above the clouds where no storm can harm him. So would I have thee too, O Mind, come up to us if it please thee, on condition of returning again with us to earth to help good men.
Thou knowest my ways, how I am ever earnest to succour the good in their need. Dost thou know how I helped Croesus the Greek king in his need, when Cyrus king of the Persians had taken him captive and was minded to burn him?
When they cast him into the fire I set him free with rain from heaven. But thou wast too confident in thy righteousness and in thy good purpose, thinking that no unrighteous thing could come upon thee, and desiring to have the reward of all thy good works here in this life. How couldst thou dwell in the midst of a nation, and not suffer the same as other men? How live in the Edition: What do the poets sing of this world but the various changes thereof?
And who art thou, not to change with it? What is it to thee how thou changest, since I am always with thee? It was even better for thee thus to change, that thou shouldst not grow too fond of worldly riches, and cease to expect still better things.
Who can ever give enough to the frenzy of the covetous? The more that is given him the greater his desire. Why art thou enraged against me? In what have I angered thee? Thou sayest I have deceived thee, but I may rather answer that thou hast deceived me, seeing that by reason of thy lust and thy greed the Creator of all things hath been forced to turn away from me. Thou art indeed more guilty than I, both for thine own wicked lusts and because owing to thee I am not able to do the will of my Maker.
He lent Edition: For he who despairs is without hope, while he who is ashamed is in the way to repentance. If thou wilt but call to mind all the worldly honours thou hast received since thy birth to this day, and reckon up the joys against the sorrows, thou canst not well say thou art poor and unhappy, for I took thee when young, untrained, and untaught, and made thee my child and brought thee up in my discipline.
How then is it possible to speak of thee as aught but most happy, when thou wast dear to me ere thou knewest me, and before thou knewest my discipline and my ways, and before I taught thee in thy youth such wisdom as is hidden from many an older sage, and when I furthered thee with my teachings so that thou Edition: If however thou wilt say thou art unhappy because thou no longer hast the fleeting honours and joys that thou once didst have, still thou art not unblest, for thy present woe will pass away even as thou sayest thy joys have passed.
Dost thou think such change of state and sadness of mood come to thee alone, and have never befallen, nor will befall, any other man? Or dost thou think that in any human mind there can be aught enduring and without change? If for a while anything endures in a man, death snatches it away, and its place knows it no more. And what are worldly riches but a foretokening of death? For death cometh to no other purpose but to take life. So also riches come to a man to rob him of that which is dearest to him in the world, and this they do when they depart from him.
Tell me, O Mind, since naught in this life may endure unchanging, which deemest thou the better?
Art thou to despise these earthly joys, and willingly give them up without a pang, or to wait till they give thee up and leave thee sorrowing? THEN Philosophy began to sing and chaunted thus: Oxford: Clarendon Press, Courcelle, Pierre. Paris: Etudes Augustiniennes, Oxford: Blackwell, Lerer, Seth. Princeton: Princeton University Press, Marenbon, John. New York: Oxford University Press, The Poetry of Boethius. London: Duckworth, Those glories of my young manhood have lately become the comforts of old age that has come upon me too soon as the burdens of anguish add to those of my years.
To the young, Death is a threat to their pleasures, but now that I am worn down and out and it offers at last a remission of all my pains, it is cruel, paying no heed to my imploring cries, and will not deign to close my weeping eyes. In my salad days, I was rich, and whimsical Fortune smiled for a little while, but then she turned away that faithless face of hers, and my bitter life drags out its long, unwanted days.
My fair-weather friends admired me, paid compliments, and envied my luck, but now they see how my foothold was always uncertain. I was certain that if she had a mind to stretch her neck just a little, her face would penetrate the skies, where it would be utterly lost to human view.
But it had darkened like a smoke-blackened family statue in the atrium as if through neglect and was dingy and worn. In her right hand she held a few books, and in her left she carried a scepter. They have no cures for what ails him. Indeed, what they offer will only make his condition worse! What we want is the fruits of reason, while all they have is the useless thorns of intemperate passion. That would have nothing to do with me. But this is an educated man, a student of Parmenides, Zeno, and Plato.
You are like the Sirens, and your blandishments will lead only to his destruction. Be gone! And leave him to my Muses to care for him and heal him. And this woman of such commanding authority.
Who was she? What did she have in mind for me? She approached my bed and seated herself at the foot of it. He used to gaze at the sun and study the constellations of the cold new moon, and he knew how the evening star of the west appears in the east to announce the morning and turns through its steady, stately cycles. He studied the hidden causes of things and understood why the winds blow and lash the waves of the sea. With eyes cast down thus, he can see nothing but dull, brown earth before him.
Do you even recognize me? Answer me! Are you silent because you are ashamed? Or are you just dumbstruck? He merely suffers from a lethargy, a sickness that is common among the depressed.
He has forgotten who he really is, but he will recover, for he used to know me, and all I have to do is clear the mist that beclouds his vision.
Boethius - The Consolation of Philosophy.pdf
III The darkness then began to lift as the night frayed, or perhaps my eyes cleared and recovered their powers. The stars have not yet appeared, but daylight is utterly gone. It was exactly like that sudden dispersal of clouds on a dark day with the rays of the sun pouring down again. I recovered myself enough to recognize now the face of my healer. As I gazed, her features came into clear focus and I beheld the nurse who had reared me and whose house I had visited from my earliest youth, none other than the lady Philosophy.
I asked her why she had deigned to descend from her dwelling place in the lofty heavens to this dungeon to which I had been banished. Was it to suffer with me and to share the terrible experience of being falsely accused?
The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
Do you suppose I would be frightened by unmerited accusations? Will Philosophy abandon an innocent man and not be a companion to him on his journey? Should I be distressed by false accusations? I am accustomed to being attacked and was a veteran of such battles even before the time of my servant Plato.
I have been doing battle forever against proud stupidity. After that, the squabbling mobs of Stoics and Epicureans fought to claim his legacy and each side tried to carry me off, tearing this lovely dress I had woven with my own hands so that each of them could claim to be wearing at least shreds of my raiment, which they pretended quite absurdly to be the entire garment.
And these bits and patches were enough for them to gain a certain acceptance by some and even for them to be attacked sometimes by the ignorant mob. It is hardly a surprise, then, that we should be beset by the iniquitous whom it is our purpose in life to displease and confound.
And even though there are many of them, we can still despise them because they have no principles to lead them and are motivated only by ignorance and whim that lead them now one way and now another. Sometimes, they come against us in great strength, but Wisdom, our general, withdraws her forces into our stronghold while our enemies wear themselves out plundering our useless baggage trains.
From our ramparts we look down and laugh at them as they busy themselves carrying away their pointless, cumbersome trophies.
Who has a life in proper order, prepared for good fortune or bad? Wretched men cringe before tyrants who have no power, the victims of their trivial hopes and fears. They do not understand that anger is helpless, fear is pointless, and desire is all a delusion. Has it sunk in, or are you a donkey hearing a lute? Why are you still weeping? Do you need to ask such questions?
Look at this dreadful cell! Was this what I looked like? Was this the expression on my face when you showed me the paths of the stars and how the order of the universe implied an ethical system for mankind?
You inferred from his writing that philosophers should take part in politics in order to prevent the state from falling into the hands of the stupid and the wicked, who would bring ruin not only to themselves but to good people along with them.
God knows—as you do, too—that that was all I had in mind, to apply myself to the betterment of the government. And what happened? Who was the voice of the victims whenever the rapacious barbarians brought their trumped-up charges against them? And every time I did this, I knew what the dangers were, and I did the right thing anyway, despite the threats of the wicked or their offers of bribes.
I was never tempted or intimidated. When the famine hit us and there was a decree ordering the forced sale of foodstuffs that would have ruined the entire province of Campania, I was the one who opposed the Praetorian Prefect and went to the king to protest the enforcement of these outrageous measures, and I won! The dogs of the court were already squabbling about how to divide up the wealth of Paulinus, the ex-consul, when I snatched it back from their slavering jaws.
But there was no one to come to my defense. And who were my accusers? And there were Opilio and Gaudentius, both of them inveterate liars who had been exiled by the king but then asked for sanctuary in some temple.
The king found out about this and decreed that unless they left Ravenna by a date certain, he would have them branded on the forehead and then driven out. Can you imagine anything worse than that? And theirs were the names on the accusation against me. How could any sensible person looking at who I was and who they were have trouble deciding whom to believe?
You would think that Fortune herself would blush in shame for innocence to be accused by such villains as these! That I wanted to protect the Senate! The accusation was that I had prevented those accusers from bringing forth charges that might have convicted the Senate of treason. Can you believe that? But the deadline has passed for me to reply to the charges and accuse my accusers.
Not that such legalistic games have anything to do with right and wrong. They are fooling themselves to suppose that they can get away with such maneuvers. I am with Socrates in this, that it is wrong for me to assent to a lie or to obscure the truth—and I leave it to you to judge what the truth is in this sorry business—to you and to all philosophers, now and in generations to come. I have written it all down so that there is a record, even though it was extremely distasteful to have to discuss these absurd forgeries in which I am accused of having tried to protect Roman liberties.
These forgeries and lies accuse me of protecting Roman freedom. Do I have to try to exonerate myself from such a charge?
Is my innocence not immediately apparent, from the absurdity of the charges themselves? And I am surprised that they have so well succeeded in their efforts. And it was in such a circumstance as this that one of your disciples asked how, if there is a God, there can be evil. And if there is not a God, where does good come from? Surely, I deserved gentler treatment than the senators themselves!
You will remember, because you were always at my side, how at Verona King Theodoric tried to expand the charges of treason that had been lodged against Albinus to include the entire senatorial order. I defended them, without giving a thought to any danger to which I might be subjecting myself. The secret pleasure of doing the right thing is vitiated if a man brags about it. If I had been charged with planning to burn down churches and murder priests or to massacre all men of wealth and title, I would still have had a right either to confess to it or to be hauled into a court for a hearing and there found guilty.
And without any right to speak in my own defense! Whatever I may have done, I did not deserve to be treated in this way for a charge such as this. Now, if you were trying to set my feet upon such a path, would I ever be tempted to listen to the lesser angels that might tempt me?
Besides, my house has no secrets and my reputation with my friends who are men of honor and with Symmachus, my father-in-law—who is to be respected almost as much as you are yourself—is such that one would think me above any suspicion of such wickedness.
The world judges actions not on their merit but on their results, which are often a matter of pure chance. Men admire nothing more than success, however achieved. And among the burdens that weigh on me is this idea that, if actions are judged only by outcomes, then those who are, like me, unfortunate or unlucky are likely to be immediately abandoned by men of goodwill.
I am thus stripped of my honors, deprived of all my possessions, the subject of wicked gossip, and punished for all my years of faithful and honest service, while the wicked, dancing in their delight, plot new accusations and hatch new schemes.
Not even the blowing winds are random, but Boreas strips leaves from the trees and Zephyrus brings on gentling nurture. Only man is endowed with freedom that you could constrain but have chosen not to, and slippery Fortune plays her random games with us. The innocent suffer penalties proper to malefactors and wicked men sit upon thrones. Villains thrive and trample the necks of virtuous men into the mud of calumny and innuendo, where the glow of goodness cannot be glimpsed.
They play with their power and topple kings, and everywhere on the wretched earth men at their hearthsides huddle in fear. I had come to the end of my loud lamentation, but Philosophy appeared to be entirely unmoved. Unless you had mentioned it, I would not have supposed how far you had been sent away; but this banishment is not merely geographical, is it?
You have been banished from yourself, and one could even say that you are therefore the instrument of your own torments, for no one else could have done this to you. You seem to have forgotten what your native country is. To obey his justice is the only freedom. But if anyone no longer wants to live there, then he no longer deserves to do so.
You have referred to the falsity of the accusations against you, and the world knows that you are correct in this, too. The crimes of your enemies are the talk of the people everywhere, and they tell each other the sorry and sordid details that you have not bothered to recite to me. Indeed, your poem invokes the order of the universe and asks that heaven intercede here on earth.
You are torn by grief and anger and self-pity, and each of these pulls you in a different direction. Then we can perhaps begin the real treatment of your complaints. No one would think to gather violets when north winds bring the cold of winter, or attempt to prune his grapevines in spring.
Or do you think it has an order and a rationale?
I believe that there is a God and that he watches over his creation. But your healthy belief in the order of nature does not seem to enable you to resist your sickness, so let us explore a little more deeply. There is some connection that is apparently missing. You say that you believe in a God that governs the world, but how do you suppose he does this?
By what means does he guide natural events? Tell me this. You are distracted, it would appear, but not totally undone. Do you remember that you are a man? Both of those things are certainly true. And I understand the cause of your sickness. You have forgotten what you are. I see why and how you are ill, and I also see the way to cure you. It is what you cannot remember that causes you to feel lost and to grieve about your exile and the loss of your property.
If you cannot remember the goal of all things, then you suppose that wicked men have power and luck. This is enough not only to cause serious illness but even death. But the author of all health has not yet abandoned you and you have not totally lost your true nature. But we are not yet at the moment when we can resort to the strongest medicines. I shall try to clear some of that fog for you, and then you may be able to see your way to the shining light of the truth that never dims.
A crystal brook encountering rocks from the heights above can be stopped in its bed. Your mind is likewise clouded and blocked. But the right road awaits you still. Then personally approaching she sat down on the farthest part of my bed and observing my face heavy from mourning and so cast down by gloom, about the disturbance of our mind the complaint is in these verses: II "Alas, how immersed in the deep of the ruined a mind is dull and by proper light abandoned stretches to go into external darkness as often as it is enlarged by terrestrial breezes guilty care arises in immensity!
Once this one was free to the open heaven accustomed to going into ethereal movements he was perceiving the lights of the rosy sun, seeing the constellations of the cold moon and wherever a star winding practices its wandering returns through various orbits the victor was having counted with numbers; why and again from where do the noisy winds stir up causes from the sea's surface, what spirit turns the stable world or why does the western constellation on the wave falling rise red from the east, what in truth would moderate the calm hours so that it may adorn the land with rosy flowers, who gives so that in a full year the fertile autumn may flow into the loaded grapes it is the custom to examine and so to report various causes of a secret nature: now it is neglected by the exhausted light of the mind and the neck pressed by heavy chains and bearing under a burden the sloping face it is compelled, alas, to perceive the dull earth.
And yet we contributed retaliatory weapons which if you had not previously thrown away would have protected you with invincible firmness. Have you been silenced by shame or by bewilderment? I would prefer by shame, but, as I see, bewilderment overwhelms you. For a little while he has forgotten himself. He will be recollected easily if in fact he recognizes us as before; and so that he can, in a little while let us wipe from his eyes the cloudy fogginess of mortal things.
III Then with night dispelled the darkness left me and the previous energy returned to the eyes, as with the rushed northwest wind the stars are gathered and in storms the rainy pole stood, the sun hides and not yet in heaven with the coming stars is the night from above spilled on the earth; but if the north wind sent out from a Thracian cave beats and unlocks enclosed day the sparkled sun shines out and suddenly by light dazzles admiring eyes with its rays.
And so when I was brought back and concentrated my eyes upon her watching, I looked back at my nurse, Philosophy, in whose liberality from youth was I turned out. Or is it that you too with me may be a defendant persecuted by false accusations? Yet it was never right for Philosophy to abandon unaccompanied the way of the innocent.
Should I no doubt be afraid of my accusers and as if something new had struck should I tremble? Did we not among the old too before the great age of our Plato often contend in disputes with the thoughtlessness of folly and by the same superstition his teacher Socrates earned the victory of an unjust death by my assistance? Since among them were seen some traces of our dress, the imprudent having supposed them to be familiar with me some of them were undone by the common multitude's error.
Nothing else dragged them down into ruin except that in the studies of our education they seemed most different from the morals of the bad. Yet each one taking the most worthless of things we are laughing at from above safe from all the frantic disturbance and on that fortified rampart on which it should not be right for the raging of folly to attain.
IV "Everyone clear in an orderly age may set overbearing fate underfoot and watching fortune straight in both directions can maintain an invincible expression; the fury and threats of the sea turned not that tide utterly with the disturbing nor so often as the unsettled bursting forge hurls the smoky fires of Vesuvius or to strike the eminent towers of custom the way of the burning thunderbolt was moving. You should neither hope for anything nor be afraid, and you would have disarmed the anger of the powerless; yet every anxious one who fears or wishes, which may not be steady and independent, throws away a shield and having changed place binds a chain which can drag.
Why are you crying, why do you yield to tears? Doesn't the appearance of this place itself move you? Is this the library, which you yourself assigned as a most certain seat for you in our home, in which residing with me you often discussed about knowledge of human and divine matters? Are these the rewards we receive for complying with you? You from the mouth of the same man advised this to be a necessary reason for the wise to go into politics, that for the government of the city to be left to the bad and disgraceful citizens would be ruin and destruction for the good.
You and God who serves you in the minds of the wise are aware that I never offered myself to any office unless it was the study of all goods in common. I have felt sorry no differently than those who suffered their provincial fortunes to be ruined not only by private robbery but by public taxation.
When in the time of the bitter famine an oppressive and inexplicable sale was considered putting a ruinous price on Campania province scarcity, I undertook a contest against the praetorian commander on account of the common interest; by the king learning of it I fought and defeated it and the sale was not enforced. The penalty of a prejudiced accusation might have seized another brave consul, Albinus, had I not exposed myself to the hatred of the informer Cyprian.
But I should have been more protected among the others, I who by my love of justice reserved nothing among the courtiers by whom I might have been more protected.The stars have not yet appeared, but daylight is utterly gone. Boethius beseeches Philosophy to continue. Again, the north wind in its fury lasheth the calm ocean. If you cannot remember the goal of all things, then you suppose that wicked men have power and luck. The Poetry of Boethius.
That he has bad fortune.